Duncraig Square is the name given to the building that was originally built in 1863 as a court of offices, stables, livery and coach-house for Duncraig Castle. The Square was constructed by local craftsmen using local stone under a heavy slate roof.
In 2013 we celebrated the fact that the Square was 150 years old. The Castle won't be 150 until 2016 as the Square and Walled garden were completed before the Castle, possibly so that the Estate was serviced with established stables and garden.
When the Castle was acquired by the Highland Council and became a Domestic Science College for young ladies, the Square was used as houses, bought by the local District Council and Educational Authority which were largely occupied by teachers and their families working locally. The houses have therefore had the advantage of being well constructed and well maintained throughout the years. These houses are now all privately owned, as is Duncraig Castle.
The Coach House is part of number 5, one of the five homes that make up the Square. A plaque over the archway into the inner courtyard reads 'Fear God, Work Hard, Be Honest.'
Duncraig Castle was built in the style of a decorative Scots Jacobean villa with a number of crenellated towers. These towers and the general shape of the castle are easily seen from Plockton, and from the castle there are splendid views of the Cuillin mountains on Skye and the Applecross mountains across the other side of the mouth of Loch Carron. It was from Applecross that the red stone used to build the Castle was ferried by boat.
The Castle was built for Sir Alexander Matheson, who made his fortune trading opium in China. Following a fire at their house in Inverinate, the Mathesons had the Castle built to entertain friends and acquaintances on a grand scale, and as an essential convenience for his numerous guests, Matheson arranged for the Castle's own station to be built once the railway was extened to Kyle (which did not happen until 11 years after he died!). He retired at the age of 36, served as a Liberal Member of Parliament from 1847 to 1884 (initially as member for Inverness Burghs and later for Ross and Cromarty) and was created the Baronet of Lochalsh in 1882. Matheson bought large tracts of the Highlands - at one stage he owned 122,000 acres. He died in 1886.
In the 1920's Duncraig Castle became the home of Sir Daniel and Lady Hamilton. Hamilton's work had taken him to India and it was whilst there that he was heavily involved in programmes of rural and social reform and gave particular importance to promoting rural upliftment and self help. It was as a result of his work in this field that he was knighted in 1906. Hamilton built a Training Centre at Gosaba in the Ganges where he trained youngsters in applied agricultural skills suited to their needs and living conditions. Over the entrance to the centre, which was opened in 1936 he placed the motto 'Fear God, Work Hard, Be Honest.'
On his return to the UK, Hamilton lived at Balmacara, bought Duncraig Castle and Achnadarroch Farm with the intention to use Duncraig Square as the residential part of a rural training centre to teach aspects of crofting, weaving and crafts with farming skills taught at Achnadarroch Farm. Lady Margaret Hamilton, when Sir Daniel died, expressed her and her late husbands wish to establish a centre of practical and residential education for young people of the highlands such as would fit them in a realistic and practical way for life in the rural Highland areas, while stressing also the importance of a cultural and religious background in accordance with Highland traditions.
The motto 'Fear God, Work Hard, Be Honest,' was then also placed over the arched entrance into Duncraig Square by the Hamiltons and is a clear reflection of their continuing efforts to develop and enhance the skills of the youngsters in their chosen local community.
Throughout the 40s and 50s the Castle continued to function as a school for girls and Balmacara House as a school for boys. One of the early tasks that the boys were involved with was the improvement of the ground in the walled garden - the digging over was done by spade by the boys until a Merry Tiller was purchased. It would seem that the original top soil in the gardens came from Ireland, bought over in bags as ballast by local fishing boats who were selling salt fish and herring catches over there.
During the Second World War the Castle was used as a Naval Hospital. At that time, the Castle experienced some modernisation with sinks, annexes, electricity and the like and the laundry was converted to an isolation ward. Power was provided by two oil engines housed on the drive between the Square and the Castle - the foundations are still evident.
After the war, the Hamilton's bequeathed the castle to Ross and Cromarty County Council in 1945 to be used as a domestic science college for girls from the Highlands and islands of Western Scotland - a continuation of their own educational intentions. It was extended with a classroom wing in 1969 (it was an ugly square bit on the right - now demolished). In 1989 Duncraig Castle School finally closed its doors after 44 years of successfully training girls in the skills of catering and in 2003 the Castle was bought by the Dobsons with the aim of it being restored after being unoccupied and neglected. Their project was filmed as the BBC series 'The Dobsons of Duncraig.'
In 2007 Duncraig Castle was used during the filming of the film Mister Lonely, a somewhat strange story and film - at least that's what we think! You can make your own mind up, as there is a copy in the apartment.
The area around Plockton (including the Castle) was used as the setting for the BBC series Hamish Macbeth, loosely based on a series of mystery novels by M. C. Beaton. In the series, Plockton was known as Lochdubh.
The Castle's latest owners are at present working to renovate the Castle for use as a Bed and Breakfast Hotel and wedding venue.
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5 Duncraig Square
Tel: 01599 544353
Mob: 07894 294520
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